'And so this is Christmas' sung the bloke from Liverpool, and it's that time when we get a chance to reflect on the year and where we're heading. OK, maybe the latter part can wait until the pudding has well and truly settled.
Above all, the Cyclingnews.com staff wish our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (that's assuming you recognize the holiday season, but you get our drift). Thanks for visiting and reading - and making suggestions - over what has been another year of highs and lows.
At the time of year we also announce the results of our global Reader Poll, and the entries this year are huge, so there may be some surprises in store.
This year was significant for the retirement of seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong. He will be remembered as one of the riders who defined the sport, transcending the normal boundaries set by the exceptional athletes who also win Grand Tours, or Spring Classics, or Gold Medals.
His absence will leave the Tour de France wide open in 2006, and could make it very interesting. I am tempted to say 'for a change', because when Lance caught Jan Ullrich in the *first stage* of this year's Tour, I was probably not alone in thinking 'game over'.
But why will people outside the sport remember Lance? Will it be for his achievements on the bike, or off the bike? Surely, the recovery from cancer is the factor that makes him break through to the mainstream media. But he wasn't long retired before the knives came out. That is not to say the claims are not without foundation; they just haven't really proven anything - yet. And on that topic, let's just hope that Roberto Heras really is innocent, because the prospect of a rider being stripped of a victory in a Grand Tour is really very bleak, and perhaps indicative that maybe we haven't moved on that far from 1998.
It's interesting that the riders - other than Armstrong - who stood out in 2004, like Damiano Cunego, didn't back it up this year. Then again, Tom Boonen and Oenone Wood showed they weren't flashes in their respective pans, either.
This year was also significant for the realization of what I consider to be every cyclist's worst nightmare; you're out riding with your friends or team-mates, enjoying what you love to do, enjoying each other's company and then …
The Cyclingnews team was devastated when news began to filter through on July 18 from Germany. The loss of Amy Gillett and the injuries to her team-mates was such a tragedy that it affected not only cyclists, but everyone. Over the past five months, we have witnessed the determined recovery of these five remarkable young women, and to think that two of them will be lining up to race in Melbourne is cycling's Christmas miracle.
As it's the muddy season for many, we've kicked off the Reader's Poll results of the best male and female cyclo-cross riders in 2005, with many categories to follow until we announce the rider of the year on New Year's Day.
At Cyclingnews, we've enjoyed another season of excellent growth and exciting race coverage. We extend our thanks to you for your support and thanks to our advertisers for their support, without which the site could not continue to grow as it has.
A big thank you as well to our diarists and the numerous contributors from around the world who help extend the reach of our staff, already spread across three continents.
Cyclingnews was also proud to support three development teams racing on three continents this year - a big congratulations to the riders and staff on the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS/Cyclingnews) team in Australia, to Jonathan Vaughters' TIAA-CREF squad in the USA, and of course, Team Cyclingnews.com, based in Belgium and taking on the big guns in Europe.
Over the next week, we will bring you the results of the poll so many of you entered, and I'm sure you're keen to know the results.
Safe riding, and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2006.
Gerard Knapp, Publisher